This was not the indignity that Texas Christian University football was expecting last year, this insult-to-injury to close out what was arguably the greatest year in school history.
In one breath the nation’s college football pundits were talking about the Horned Frogs or Baylor being the fourth team to make the four-team inaugural College Football Playoff. After all, the two teams shared the Big 12 title, with only a wild 61-58 loss at Baylor separating the Horned Frogs from an undefeated season.
In the next breath … well, you know the rest of the story. Big Ten champion Ohio State snuck in to take the fourth and final spot and the rest was history for the Buckeyes.
For the Horned Frogs?
The Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve was the runnerup prize, and as much as you say the right things and embrace the moment – and TCU did, eventually beating Ole Miss 42-3 – it’s not the same as playing for a national championship.
So the motivation for this year is set, and it comes from the obvious: the loss at Baylor, the snub by the CFP, quarterback Trevone Boykin’s pursuit of the Heisman Trophy, and the desire to brand the program as a powerhouse elite.
Can it happen?
Much needs to fall in place again for the Horned Frogs. For starters, while people hang their hats on the three-point loss to the Bears – a game TCU squandered by giving up 21 points in the fourth quarter – people also seem to forget that the Horned Frogs only beat Oklahoma by four at home, slipped past West Virginia 31-30 on the road, and barely beat Kansas – Kansas! – 34-30, also on the road.
At any moment the whole idea of playing in the CFP could have been gone.
It could happen at any moment again this season.
TCU and Baylor square off again in the final regular season game of the year, this time at TCU, but before that the Horned Frogs have to go to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. It will be hard to escape both without a loss.
But there’s always Boykin.
This is one of your great college football stories of the 2015 season, the wide receiver-turned-quarterback who lit up the Big 12 last season. Along with Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, Boykin is generally listed among the top three Heisman Trophy candidates for the upcoming season. For his part, Boykin has been consistent in saying you have to win games first for the things like the Heisman Trophy to fall in place.
That’s true. But it’s also true that TCU goes where Boykin takes it, plain and simple. Credit that to co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, who came to Fort Worth last year and turned Boykin into one of the most exciting players in the country – turned him loose is more like it – and turned the Horned Frogs’ offense into the most dynamic in the country.
Now, to be clear, we’re not pinning this all on one player. TCU is not Texas Tech Lite from the old Mike Leach days. No, the beauty of this TCU team is that it has weapons to complement Boykin. Josh Doctson had a school-record 1,018 yards on 65 receptions and 11 touchdowns last year and fellow wideout Kolby Listenbee caught 41 balls for 753 yards. You aren’t overloading one side against TCU.
The defense has question marks, to be sure, but, well, heck, when you score 58 dang points in your only loss you can consider that something of an anomaly. The Horned Frogs WILL outscore you.
Which brings us back to last year. Credit coach Gary Patterson for his subtlety. He expressed his concern and his reservations – quietly – about how the system worked. If he played the snub card it was behind closed doors and he had his team ready for the bowl game.
“After last year, I don’t feel confident about anything,” Patterson said last month at Big 12 Media Days. “But the key to the whole story is, I’m going to always be a team player. The bottom line, I handle it the way I handle it because that was what was best for college football, best for the Big 12, best for TCU, best for my team. And I knew if I handled it differently, then they wouldn’t have played like they did in a bowl game.”
There’s no looking back now for TCU. What happened last year happened.
But the best part is, there’s no turning back now, either. Patterson has taken this program to great heights. Recruiting has benefitted. Last year’s ride, Peach Bowl or not, was a huge help.
Now the Horned Frogs can say, confidently and without resignation, they want it all this year.